30 June 2009

When it Comes to Conversation With Young Children: More is Better

In a posting this week to the Early Ed Watch Blog, "UCLA Study: Give Young Children a Chance to Converse," Lisa Guernsey reviews the findings of a recent article in the journal Pediatrics that links young children's language skills to the amount of time that adults engage them in back-and-forth dialogue.

Past research, particularly the acclaimed Hart & Risley study, has shown that children's cognitive abilities are strongest among those whose parents use many words in speaking to them. That study emphasized the importance of exposing children not only to directions or comments about their behavior ("drink your milk") but also to new vocabulary words and descriptions of the world around them ("did you see that hummingbird?"). Today's study builds on those findings, showing what many child development experts have stressed for years -- that some of the strongest learning moments happen in interactions between caregivers and young children.

While vocabulary is important, "we find that the effect of the conversation is six times as great as the words," said Frederick J. Zimmerman, the study's lead author ...

The study is among the first to use small, unobtrusive recording devices that capture all of the sounds and words spoken to and around young children. ... Researchers report that the technology, called LENA ... allows researchers to learn about children's experiences at home, at school, or on the playground without having to plant an observer to take notes on the kids' every move...

Throughout the study, children's language skills were tested using an assessment called the Preschool Language Scale.

Results showed that with each increase of 1,000 words in adult speech, children's language skills also increased. And with each 100 conversational turns per day, the language score jumped further.

Parents and care-givers should take these results as evidence, Zimmerman said, of the importance of encouraging children to express themselves and engage in conversations. "One of the goals should be to engage the child in speaking," Zimmerman said. "In language, practice makes perfect."

09 June 2009

Sugar Ditch Brought to the City

Last week in this space, I raised a question concerning rising child poverty rates in Memphis: How could it be that in just the last decade, the child poverty rate for children under age five in the City of Memphis has increased by more than 40%? Is it possible that the rise in child poverty rates is a reflection of White and middle-class flight from the city of Memphis, leaving behind a cohort of increasingly poor and minority families?

Our Colleague John Gnuschke, Director of the Sparks Bureau for Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis sent a thoughtful reply concerning the shifting demographics of poverty in the city:

"It is true that white and higher income families of all races with children are fleeing the city and leaving behind older upper income professionals and poor families with children who cannot afford to access the quality housing and school systems in newer suburbs. This has been promoted by transportation opportunities, school construction patterns, housing development patterns and taxing patterns.

Private schools are more affordable for those in high income areas of the city if they can keep taxes low. If taxes are too high and the cost of private schools is too high, middle class and affluent families are much better off to flee and seek both lower taxes and better public schools. New housing is also an attraction for newly minted middle class families of all races. Employers and employment opportunities flow to those areas of recent growth. I am not sure what this says except that the flight to safety and security has many stages and one of them is to move to the city and the second is to move to the suburbs. This has always been a pattern for Delta families seeking employment and income opportunities.

This issue is a nexus of economic and demographic growth patterns that blend the social, political and economic factors together in a cement mixer.

The only ones really harmed by the movement are the families that are left behind with few opportunities to overcome their position in life. The decaying infrastructure is more than just poor schools and abandoned factories, it is the destruction of the American adventure based on hope for a brighter future.

Children with little or no hope of a promising future are an image that few people can envision. It is the image of Sugar Ditch brought to the city. Can it really be this bad or are we just outsiders looking in the window from a elitist point of view?"

We welcome your comments and questions.

08 June 2009

Making Dreams Attainable: Early Intervention Services for Young Children With Disabilities

When it comes to healthy early childhood development, there is a wide range of normal, but the pace is not steady. Young children learn in leaps and bounds (CDPI, 2003). For young children with developmental disabilities, early interventions can greatly improve long-term outcomes (Oser & Cohen, 2003). Early intervention provides assistance and supports to encourage the best possible developmental results, and it supports families trying to provide for their child’s special requirements. For vulnerable infants and toddlers, early intervention can be a lifeline to optimal social, emotional, cognitive and physical development (Jones, 2009).

What is Part C of the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (IDEA)?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires states to diagnose and provide suitable early intervention provisions to children under age three who are developmentally delayed or have a condition that is associated with a developmental delay. States must guarantee that early intervention provisions will be available to every qualified family. Annual monetary support for each state is based upon population estimates of the number of infants and toddlers (birth through age two) in the overall population (Jones, 2009).

States also can provide services to infants and toddlers who are at higher risk of confronting a significant lag if early intervention services are not available (i.e. children born to teen mothers or children born to drug-addicted parents) but few states actually provide services to these families (RI Kids Count, 2009).

Fast Facts:
- In Shelby County, early intervention services are provided by the Tennessee Early Intervention System, a voluntary educational program for families with children ages birth through two years of age with disabilities or developmental delays.

- In 2008, 779 local children received early intervention services, 1.84% of the 42,361 Shelby County children under age three*. Nationwide, approximately 16% to 18% of children have developmental delays (Glascoe & Shapiro, 2007).

- In the state of Tennessee (2007), over 4,400 children under age three received Part C Early Intervention Services. Over 16% (737) of Tennessee children receiving early intervention aid reside in Shelby County, the state’s most populated county (TDOE, 2007).

In order to promote optimal brain development in our youngest children, please consider the following policy suggestions (Zero to Three, 2009):

-Support professional development of the early intervention labor force.

-Increase connections to comprehensive early education experiences for young children across various environments.

-Extend and improve early recognition of infants and toddlers to comprise greater organization and partnership among early childhood professionals.

For more information about early intervention in Shelby County, please contact Memphis Delta TEIS at 901-937-6738.


“Promoting School Success: Closing the Gap Between Research and Practice.” 2003. San Francisco, CA: CDPI Education Fund.

Glascoe, F.P., & Shapiro, H.L. (2007). Introduction to developmental and behavioral screening. Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics Online, www.dbpeds.org.

Jones, L. (2009). Making hope a reality: Early intervention for infants and toddlers with disabilities. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE Policy Center.

Oser, C. and Cohen, J. (2003). Improving early intervention: Using what we know about infants and toddlers with disabilities to reauthorize Part C of IDEA. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE Policy Center.

Rhode Island Kids Count. (2009). Children enrolled in early intervention. (2009 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook). Providence, RI: Author.

Tennessee Department of Education. (2008, December). Tennessee child count data: District data. Nashville,TN: Author.

Tennessee Department of Education. (2007, December). Rank order data: Birth through 2 years of age. Nashville, TN: Author. (*Includes County Population Estimate)

Zero to Three. (2009). Early Experiences Matter Policy Guide. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/.

05 June 2009

What Explains the 40% Rise in Poverty Among Young Children in Memphis?

Thanks to the outstanding work of TUCI's Databook Team, we understand that children born in our community face daunting risks, and we have reason to believe that the current economic recession will only exacerbate those problems. As Gene Cashman noted recently in The Commercial Appeal: "Year over year, we are seeing a generation of children born into very difficult circumstances that will negatively impact their development during the most critical years of their lives."

Even following the data closely, we remain at a loss to explain how - in the last decade - the child poverty rate for children under age five in the City of Memphis has increased by more than 40%.

Doug Imig, of TUCI's Center for Urban Child Policy, suggests that the rise in child poverty rates may be the legacy of White and middle-class flight from the city of Memphis, leaving behind a cohort of increasingly poor and minority families. To investigate whether this is the case, we currently are looking at shifting poverty rates and demographics across the Memphis MSA.

One thing we do know is that childhood poverty takes a heavy toll on early childhood brain development. Children born in poverty are developmentally 18 months behind their middle-class peers by age four. By the time they reach kindergarten, children from affluent families have cognitive scores 60 percent higher than the scores of children from poor families. Across Shelby County, over half of children growing up in poverty fail to finish high school.

We welcome your comments, reflections and insight.

The Urban Child Institute's Center for Urban Child Policy is committed to building public will and a sustained political voice for children in Memphis and Shelby County in order to improve the well-being of young children and their families.

Embracing Parents and Children In The Home Environment: Encouraging Healthy Growth Through Home Visiting

Parents are an infant’s first teachers, with the capacity to accelerate their healthy brain development. In our community, over half of children are born into families confronting economic hardship, social isolation, and crime – risk factors that jeopardize their capacity to provide social, emotional and cognitive nourishment to their newborns. Home visiting programs can provide some protection against these risks, particularly when they are part of a wholistic system of support.

At-risk children and families that receive high-quality home visiting assistance fare better on a number of dimensions of development, school achievement, and lifetime well-being. Families served by the Nurse Family Partnership Program, for example, are more likely to escape poverty, and children in families that have received this intervention are less likely to be victims of abuse, to be held back in school, or to become teen parents.

Investing in high quality home visiting is a smart community development investment.

Fast Facts:

- At least eight home visiting programs are currently operating in Shelby County, serving as many as 1,400 children and families (TUCI, 2006). Two of these programs (Healthy Families and Parents as Teachers) have been evaluated and are considered proven or promising (Promising Practices Network). Combined, these two programs have a capacity of 272 children and families.

- Early Head Start, a federally-funded and research-supported early childhood program that includes a home visiting component, is currently serving 95 local children (Warr, 2009), less than 1% of the eligible Shelby County population.

Policy Suggestions (Zero to Three, 2009):

- Guarantee that services provided through home visiting are culturally and linguistically sensitive.

- Merge home visiting programs into an extended community early childhood system and framework, and reiterate coordination among home visiting services.

- Promote precise, continuous evaluation and extended improvement efforts for home visiting programs.


The Urban Child Institute. (2006). Complete Home Visitation Matrix. Memphis, TN: The Urban Child Institute.

Warr, M. (personal communication, May 12, 2009)

Zero to Three. (2009). Early Experiences Matter Policy Guide. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org.